It’s critical for businesses to recognise that if they fail to act appropriately, they could face a raft of workplace personal injury claims, which could be a major distraction and damage business confidence, says Tina.
AS furlough draws to a close and thoughts turn to a return to workshops, factories and offices across the UK, it’s important employers consider not just the physical measures needed to ensure a Covid-19-secure environment, but what their employees will need to support their mental wellbeing.
Despite the vaccine rollout, there may still be anxiety concerning the return to the workplace and the potentially increased likelihood of coming into contact with the virus, especially for those with underlying health conditions, or family members that have a condition.
New working practices could have an impact on employees and employers must recognise that change can be stressful. It may take time for employees to adjust to new working patterns and a return to a more structured working environment.
Employees should be made aware they can discuss their stress and seek assistance to help them manage it. It could also be prudent to train some employees to become ‘Mental Health First Aiders’ and encourage other colleagues to approach them with their concerns on a confidential basis.
Public Health England offers guidance to help individuals manage their mental health during the current crisis and mental health charities are expanding their support services, which businesses may wish to inform their workforce about.
Beware the impact on mental health
Work-related stress can be triggered by any number of issues, including workload pressures, workplace interpersonal relationships and changes at work, all of which are likely to be amplified, given the current economic disruption, job insecurity and social distancing requirements.
With a focus on the return to the workplace and getting a business functioning optimally once again, it’s easy to ignore the stress issue and concentrate on core activities, but the impact on employees can be so severe that businesses should consider relatively simple steps to mitigate the impact.
One of the simplest measures is to introduce a ‘Stress Risk Assessment’, which will achieve two things:
it will enable businesses to focus clearly on the newly emerging drivers of stress; it will demonstrate the steps the business has taken to minimise their impact.
Given the scale of upheaval within the sector, any existing risk assessment is not likely to be fit for purpose, so performing a newly devised assessment will demonstrate a responsive and flexible attitude toward protecting the mental wellbeing of the workforce.
Many employers may have undertaken risk assessments during the first lockdown, however conducting a new and updated risk assessment as employees return to work, will ensure employers can adapt to any new challenges uncovered in the process.
It’s by identifying the causes of stress and trying to deal with them, that a business can demonstrate if required to in future, that it took reasonable steps and fulfilled its duty of care to its employees.
Introduce new company policies
Businesses may consider implementing the following policies: coronavirus policy, flexible working policy and a homeworking
policy. Introducing a ‘stress at work’ policy, to provide guidance for employees on how to handle stress and seek support, is also a prudent step.
These policies will not only protect the business by introducing procedural changes and provide guidance for employees, but will also provide a level of comfort for the workforce who should understand the business is responding sensibly and proactively to the ongoing crisis.
Good communication essential to support
Businesses should ensure the lines of communication between the workforce, line managers, the HR team and health and safety managers are open and accessible. Connecting with people is a key factor to address stress whilst working from home or on their return to the workplace.
The workforce should be encouraged to discuss their stress and managers should respond with consistent messaging, whilst looking for any pattern of occurrences affecting more than one individual, which may highlight a more serious systemic issue to address.
Dedicating a member of the HR team to different sections of the business can help by providing employees a direct point of contact should they want to discuss work-related stress.
There are good reasons for a business to try and mitigate stress in the workplace, starting with their duty of care towards their employees, particularly given the current situation. There is also the business case that a stressed workforce will be less productive at a time when the business needs the most from everyone.
It is critical for businesses to recognise that if they fail to act appropriately, they could face a raft of workplace personal injury claims, which will undoubtedly be a major distraction and is likely to damage business confidence.
If claims concerning Covid-19 related stress emerge, the businesses in the strongest position will be those that can demonstrate they took the issue seriously, while pointing to a recorded risk assessment and structured engagement with employees throughout.